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Chapter 7 : The Man in the Smoke
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She needed to tell Fred about the charm.
Among other things, he might actually know who bought the charm - since the war, she knew that his father had started to keep careful records of who bought certain products, just in case, and though she wasn’t sure whether the shield charms were among them, it seemed likely that they were.
However, she couldn’t help but feel nervous about doing so. Fred was her favourite cousin, and she knew the feeling was mutual. If he knew that he’d sold the charm that had turned her into a werewolf - and at this point, she was operating under the assumption that she was one, because including the qualifier ‘might be’ in her thoughts was only going to leave her more devastated when it turned out that she was - he was going to feel absolutely awful.
Which wasn’t really what she wanted. After all, it wasn’t his fault.
Both Teddy and Dominique had refrained from pushing her about this particular issue, but as Teddy had gently pointed out, the longer she let it go the more likely it was to fester into misplaced resentment.
It was with that in mind that she broached the subject several days after she saw her parents. Teddy was working late to make up for the time he’d taken off right after the accident, and Fred was over at their flat.
“I have something I need to tell you,” she said shortly after he’d arrived.
“What’s that?” he asked. “Do I have to dress up in a dress for your wedding after all?”
Victoire let out a snort. She’d ultimately decided that she wanted both Fred and Micah to be ‘bridesmaids’ in the wedding, which had led to a great many jokes about how neither had the legs to pull off a dress. “No,” she said after a moment. “It’s about the accident.”
That was how she’d begun to think of it in her mind; ‘the attack’ just sounded so morbid and terrible, and she was sure that thinking about it as such just raised her anxiety level.
“What about it?” he asked, suddenly looking quite serious.
She cleared her throat. “Remember how I told you that our spells didn’t work?” He nodded. “Well...” She swallowed hard and forced herself to keep talking. “There was a reason for that.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Which was?”
Her heart was pounding in her chest right now, and she felt vaguely as though she might throw up. “It was a shield charm,” she managed to get out. “From the shop.”
Fred stared at her for a minute before slumping back in his seat. “Shit,” he muttered.
As he dissected the information, Victoire shifted awkwardly in her chair. She had no idea what to say. Rather than look at her cousin, she fixed her gaze on the blue vase sitting over their fireplace that Teddy had brought back from his trip to Greece the year before.
When she finally glanced back at Fred, he had his head in his hands. “Stupid,” he mumbled. “We should have known something like this could happen.”
“I don’t see how,” Victoire said. Her voice came out sharper than she’d intended it to, and he winced. She felt a small stab of guilt, but didn’t bother to soften her tone; she didn’t have the energy to waste on little gestures like that. Fred was tough. He’d get over it. “Someone buying a charm and giving it to a little girl so no witch or wizard will be able to defend themselves against her when she turns into a werewolf isn’t exactly something you plan for.”
He lifted his head and stared at her. “Wait. It wasn’t an accident?”
She sighed. “We don’t know for sure, but probably not.”
Fred looked at though he wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or even worse than he already did.
“If I showed it to you, could you tell me who bought it?” Victoire asked.
“You have it?” She nodded, and he said, “Yeah, absolutely. Dad always keeps a record of that sort of thing, just in case.” He got to his feet. “Where is it?”
She let out an involuntary laugh. “Fred, I don’t have it here. It’s at work.”
“Oh.” He fell back onto the couch, looking a little embarrassed. “That makes sense.”
“Can you come in tomorrow?” she asked. He nodded quickly, and they moved onto other, less depressing topics until Teddy got home and the three of them sat down to dinner.
The next day, Victoire got up at her usual time. Given the situation, both Seamus and Lavender had made it clear to her that if she wanted to come in later, she could, but Victoire knew that falling into those habits when you had a good excuse just made it harder to really get back into your daily life for when you didn’t.
When she got out of the shower and entered the kitchen, however, she found Teddy already in there. Steam was rising from the cup of hot tea was sitting on the counter, and he seemed to be frying something on the stove.
She collapsed into one of the chairs, and he looked over his shoulder at her. “Good morning,” he said.
Victoire forced herself to smile at him in return, though inside, she was starting to feel a little irritated. Teddy had always been a caring, attentive sort of boyfriend, but since the accident he’d been bending over backwards to make everything easier for her and to reassure her that they were okay.
Once she’d gotten over the initial shock, she hadn’t really spent much time worrying about their relationship or whether he would leave her because of this. She knew he wouldn’t.
So all of the reassurance he was offering - well-intentioned though it was - was starting to leave her feeling stifled and like she wanted to strangle him. She wasn’t made of glass, and his acting like she was only made going through the day harder.
“Thanks,” she muttered when he slid the plate of eggs and bacon in front of her, along with her cup of tea. When she glanced up at his face, he looked a little taken aback and hurt, and she immediately felt more than a little guilty.
“Sorry,” he said softly, collecting his plate from the counter and slumping into the seat across from her. She studied him as he started to eat; the floppy brown hair he’d grown fond of in the last month covered some of his face, but his body language gave away his feelings. He glanced up, and she could see the confusion and guilt in his eyes as he said, “You should eat.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, reaching out to grab his free hand. “Teddy, I appreciate this, I do. I’m just not made of glass. You don’t need to take care of me.”
He sighed and put his fork down. “I’ve been smothering you, haven’t I?” She hesitated, and he added, “Vic, tell me the truth.”
“A little,” she admitted. “Yes.” She squeezed his hand. “Teddy, you don’t need to prove anything to me.”
“I know.” He ran a hand through his hair, which rippled into a dark blue. “I just want to make it easier for you.”
“You do,” she said softly. “But you’re going a little overboard.”
He wrinkled his nose. “I’ll try to scale back,” he promised.
“Thanks.” Victoire turned to her food, which was quite good, and after they’d both finished and deposited the plates in the sink, Teddy turned to her and kissed her forehead.
“I’m going to go back to bed for a few hours,” he said. “Have a good day.”
She smiled. “You too.”
It took Victoire a few more minutes to finish getting everything together, and when she finally began to make her way toward the door, she was feeling a bit more optimistic about everything with Teddy. As she passed their closed bedroom door, however, she heard a faint noise from inside and stopped. It took her a moment to place the sound, because she heard it so rarely.
He was crying.
She let out a shaky breath and leaned against the wall, trying to figure out whether she should go in there. At this point, however, she was afraid that she’d do more harm than good, so she took out her wand and used it to paint the words “I love you” on the mirror across from their room before slipping out the front door. She felt as though that was rather inadequate, especially considering everything he’d been doing for her lately, but she wasn’t sure what else she could do.
When she got to work, their little cubicle was mercifully empty, and she carefully took a seat behind her desk, which was still shrouded in darkness. Rather than turn on the lights and get to work, she closed her eyes and, for once, allowed the guilt and tension to course through her.
She swiped the tears away and looked up quickly. Van was standing near his desk, and while she couldn’t see his face, she heard the concern in his voice.
“What?” she asked, hoping that he didn’t hear the slight waver when she spoke.
He grabbed his chair and dragged it over. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I snapped at Teddy,” she said softly. “This morning. He got up to make me breakfast, and I’ve just been getting so frustrated with the way he’s been treating me like I’m fragile and about to fall apart that I was kind of a bitch about it.” The tears started to drip down her face again. “And he acted like it was fine, but when I left, I heard him c-c-crying about it.” She coughed, and Van sighed and produced a tissue.
“It’s okay,” he said as she dabbed at her eyes. “I promise. I’ve had women - well, mostly one woman, I guess - make me cry loads of times, and I got over it.”
She snorted through her tears and blew her nose. “He’s just trying to help,” she said softly. “You know?”
Van sighed. “I know,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that what he’s doing is working, and if you didn’t address it you’d probably just end up resenting him.”
She gave a half-hearted shrug. “But-”
“Look, Vic,” Van said, talking over her. “Tough love time.” He put his hands on her shoulders and swiveled her around to look at him. “You are spoiled,” he said, enunciating every word clearly. She opened her mouth to argue, but he didn’t give her an opening. “Being with Teddy has spoiled you, because he’s so easygoing that he can shrug most things off. But relationships are messy. I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve made him cry, and I’m also sure it won’t be the last. It needed to be said. He’ll get over it. So will you. Stop stressing.”
She took a deep, shuddering breath. “But-”
“No buts,” he interrupted. “Talk to him when you get home and make sweet sweet love or whatever it is that you do, and move on.”
Victoire felt her face start to get hot, and she was glad it was too dark for him to see. “No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend,” she shot back instead.
He clapped her on the shoulder and pulled back. “See, there’s the Vic we all know and love.” He glanced over his shoulder, lowered his voice, and said, “And anyway, the real reason I don’t have a girlfriend is because I’m madly in love with my boss.”
“Oh, God,” Victoire said, wiping away her tears one more time and pointing her wand at the orbs floating along the ceiling. The room lit up, revealing a broad grin across his face. “You have issues,” she informed him. “You were dropped on your head as a child, weren’t you?”
Van shrugged. “Quite possibly,” he said cheerfully, getting up and pulling his chair back across the floor. “Now get to work.”
Despite Van’s somewhat callous methods, Victoire found to her surprise that she was feeling a little better about everything. She grabbed a stack of papers and got to work.
After a few hours, a shadow fell across the center of the small room. When she looked up, she saw Lavender standing at the entrance.
“Vic, your cousin is here.”
Victoire jumped out of her chair and covered the room in just a few strides. Lavender led her out into the corridor and toward the office. When she opened the door and they entered the room, Victoire saw Fred scrutinising a large map that was pinned to the wall.
Lavender cleared her throat, and he spun around. “Hi,” he said, sounding a little awkward. He seemed to be unsure of whether or not he should be looking at Lavender’s scarred face, and he ended up focusing on Victoire. “I’m- er- here to look at that necklace.”
Victoire nodded, and Lavender made her way toward the heavy desk and bent down to rifle through the drawer.
“Stop being so uncomfortable,” Victoire muttered to her cousin, who shrugged helplessly. “It’s not that different from my dad, you know.”
“But I know your dad,” he whispered back. “I don’t know -”
Lavender straightened up, and he stopped talking. “This is it,” she said, laying the necklace on the desk. Fred went to examine it, and Victoire followed him.
“Well, it’s definitely one of ours,” he said, peering at it. He pulled out his wand and tapped it to the necklace, and a silvery cloud with a man’s face in it rose out of the pendant. Fred stared at it for a moment before nodding. “I remember him,” he said. “He definitely bought it at the Hogsmeade branch.”
“What else do you remember?” Lavender pressed, and Fred shrugged.
“Not much. He was pretty ordinary. I only remember him because he came in on a slow day and I thought it was a bit odd.”
“There’s nothing else that you remember at all?” Lavender asked. “What else did he look at? How did he pay for it?”
Fred shrugged again, looking lost. “The usual. The fireworks, the sweets. Then he picked this up, brought it up to the till, and handed over the silver.” He looked back at the face. “Look, there was literally nothing special about him. He was friendly enough, he mentioned the weather, and then he left.”
Victoire looked back at the face shrouded in the fog. He had sandy, flat-looking hair and a slightly-larger-than-average nose. His forehead was a little short, and his eyebrows were a little bushy.
There was nothing remotely interesting about him. The only thing that was clear was that this was definitely not the little girl’s uncle - they looked nothing alike.
How on earth were they going to track this man down when they had so little to go on?
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